At bygone FSTECs, restaurateurs likely struggled to get their minds around such hair-igniting new technologies as apps that enabled customers to order and even pay via cellphone.
What were the frontiers previewed for attendees of this year’s gathering, the just-concluded confab for the restaurant industry’s tech leaders?
Here’s a sampling of the developments that speaker after speaker advised the audience to stop viewing as "Star Trek" figments and start embracing as realities that will be here tomorrow.
Speakers aired enough clips of cars navigating themselves to populate a robust YouTube channel. The impact they conjectured was still gut speculation, but there was considerable agreement on certain upshots.
A near consensus emerged, for instance, that restaurant drive-thrus will soon function without human fingerprints. Automated cars will retrieve meals from some sort of mechanized hand-over system and bring it back to Master’s pad.
There was also an assertion that driverless cars will do double duty as businesses’ delivery vehicles while not in use by the owner. In that scenario, the smart buggies would take the owner to work, then go to work itself, hauling food or other supplies. It would do the same thing overnight.
The chief technology officer from Tesla explained how the company’s electric cars are already learning from experience and adjusting operations accordingly every three months. Software updates to the operating system are automatically downloaded to the vehicles.
But that wasn’t the only example aired during FSTEC of machines sharpening their act by paying attention to experience. Keynote speaker and futurist Shawn DuBravac contended that digital delivery systems may one day be able to read a customer’s emotional state through facial-expression analytics and suggest a food order to match the mood.
Sensors, sensors everywhere
As the cost of sensing devices has come down, their use has increased exponentially, speakers agreed. They noted that the detection devices are now routinely used by farmers to monitor the status of crops from a central location. Field sensors could also indicate when the plants are at their optimum point for use in certain recipes, presenters suggested.
One presenter recounted how a company in the industry already installs sensors in headquarters desks to monitor the team’s activities. He noted that restaurants could put the gizmos in the offices of restaurant managers to make sure they’re on the floor instead of getting bogged down in paperwork.
The ability to replace human restaurant workers with cyborgs is no longer a looming option, speakers contended. "We have people already coming to us and saying, 'Hey, we have a robot that can flip burgers,'" said Eric Kinniburgh, COO of the Bareburger casual-dining chain.
Sara Rush Wirth, the managing editor of Restaurant Business, showed a clip of a now-available kitchen robot that garnishes and otherwise completes the prep of a burger instead of merely flipping it when one side is cooked.
David Pogue, the tech journalist, flashed a stat that indicated 97% of quick-service crew members could be replaced by robots.
Outside Anaheim, the California city that hosted FSTEC, drivers on a coastal highway are reassured they can “breath easy”: drones are forbidden on the area’s beaches and hiking trails.
Inside the event’s conference room, restaurateurs learned how drones are just about to become a part of their world. Mark Freeman, who oversees the employee feeding operations for Microsoft, recounted how he’d had a sushi meal delivered to him via drone the prior week. It’s a reality for his operation.
Pogue aired a clip of parcels being delivered by Amazon to homes in Europe. Patrons put a marker on their properties to show where the package should be downloaded, and a drone that resembles a mattress-less bed frame flies the merchandise and gently deposits it there.
It’s already a routine option in Europe, Pogue said. And he added that it would likely be in place here if it weren’t for Federal Aviation restrictions.